Sit back and enjoy your dandelions!

It is so peacefully easy to do something for the bees. Just leave the mower in the shed and let all the dandelions flower! The lawn is bright yellow with sunburst flowers and the air is loud with the humm of bees, that are so covered in pollen they are almost as golden as the flowers.

Inaction is a much underrated art. We don’t have to be improving ourselves, tidying the garden, living “our best lives” ( what ever that improbability should be! ) often the best thing is delicious sloth, quiet, environmentally friendly inaction: just letting the garden go. I have managed such masterful lack of movement  that a  dandelion is now poking through the slats of the garden seat. The only danger to it will come when I sit on the bench for yet another cup of tea!

 

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Thermogenesis

Spring snow is always such a shock. Just when we are getting used to sunshine a  front sweeps in and brings wet cold, cold snow.

Thankfully it is short lived and most plants are little the worse for it. Some plants even seem to shrug off the snow before the thaw begins and they are the ones that catch my eye. The photo is of daisy flowers closed shut, but quite free of the just fallen snow. The only explanation can be that they produce their own heat that actually melts the surrounding snow. They are not alone: tulips, cabbages and winter wheat and many other plants are capable of  making heat to protect themselves from frost and snow. This phenomenon has been well studied in a few  plants world wide, but it is a remarkable ability that is shared by so many plants, which we only get to actually appreciate and recognise after pesky, shocking spring snow!

Starting Early.

The leaves are not yet out, but the sunshine is dazzling. So much extraordinary, unmitigated light is flooding me in a kind of shiney March madness. Everything is bare and beautiful, raw and stark and shadowless.

The bright early spring has tempted me to start mothing earlier than usual. The nights are still frosty, but some wonderful moths are flying already. Most early moths have over wintered as adults and tend to be restful shades of brown and grey to avoid  predation. I have found modest quakers, hebrew characters and brindled beauties. This speckled specimen reminds me of a garibaldi biscuit as it scuttles quickly under  the few emergent leaves to wait out the bright spring sunshine until peaceful night time.

When the time is right.

Acorns have waited all winter to be in the right place at the right time and today the brown shells split, the simple leaves began to swell and the powerful root began to push down into the soil. A drift of acorns half trodden into the mud decided today was the day and erupted into life.

I couldn’t resist picking up a handful of nuts that were not yet attached to the soil and I took them home in my pocket. I have laid them in a pot of soil from the oldest part of the garden, where hopefully the good things that trees need will bind with the emerging roots and seedlings will grow.

Like most people, I have never grown an oak tree, but I have a feeling that it really is about  time to try!

Winston and the slow worm – again!

The garden is waking up. There are bees on the willow flowers, daffodils braving the frosty clods and Winston the cat has caught another slow worm. These warm, smooth, legless lizards spend the winter, safe in compost heap, but when the sunshine rouses them, my cat is waiting to pounce.

The good news is that he doesn’t hurt them. With gentleness unusual in a feline killer, he picks them up in his mouth, brings them to the nearest human and drops them unmolested at our feet. The slowworm stays very still, is happy to be picked up and Winston mewls and yowls proudly until he is praised and petted for his “ catch”.

The reptile is returned to the warm rotting heap; Winston frisks about full of the joys of spring and the sun shines on!

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Dancing with Kites.

 

Over the garden a red kite mewling like a kitten, so close I could reach out my hand and brush the polished perfect feathers.

Kite silhouette again the racing  blue sky, the cat crouches low and the bird is gone, piping and laughing into the clouds.

And now another and another.

They twist around each other, wings touching the roof tops delighting in the fitful wind, hail flung after them and the sunlight chasing them.

Flame forked tails angle and the birds turn, quartering the spring sky into slabs of changing colour. Four birds over my tiny garden, calling to each other for the whole spring day.

Flirting, testing partners, laughing: dancing.

 

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..Mad March

I could be in  Tenerife right now. I’m sure the sun is shining and the waves are glittering, but I’m not there, and I’m glad!  The problem with other places is the getting to them. Hours of checking in and checking out, passports, cramped seats and jampacked flights full of people you hope never to see again are just the prelude. Then there is the location of the hotel. Then there is the finding of the place you so hopefully booked, so long ago, which looked such a great deal, but turns out to be hours away again from where you expected, adjacent to a motorway and next to a noisy bar and under some piledriving construction.

I know where my houses is, and I like it. The wind may be roaring, the sun intermittent, fretful and only momentarily  glorious, but the bed is comfortable, the food and wine to my taste, and  the cats on the sofa are relaxed and purring, purring.

The mad March  wind blows the first spring flowers up and away into a noisy maelstrom . Rain splatters against the windows and into my face as I race into the garden to chase a flying garden chair, but I right now I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else and I don’t regret my cancelled holiday for a moment.

There goes the bin over again, but here comes the sun and I think that was a rainbow!

 

 

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Spring on the kitchen table.

TS Elliot said « April is the cruelest month » as it stirs dull desire, but I dont think he was a gardener. Shoring up the ruins of Western civilisation in his poetry must have left him little time  to appreciate that March is a far crueler month, as the anticipation of spring is so sharp it hurts.

I am impatient by nature. After the first snow drops and catkins prove winter is dead, then I want full leafed, green pulsing life back in my garden and in the fields and fast! I want long grass and swaying trees, butterflies, birds and moths, but must make do with worm casts and buds that seem clenched as tight shut as a fist.

To compensate I turn to the garden centre and buy spicey perfumed pinks and heady jasmine to speed things along. I know they will languish before long for lack of light, but for now I can bathe in thier perfume between the pepper pots and salt cellar, as I wait for the fists to unfurl.

Spring on the window sill.

Outside the dead twig is king. We are weeks away from  buds breaking here, but the kitchen window is a good place to tempt the flowers to appear at eye level right now.

Forsythia is the most forgiving of bushes. All year it is sturdy and green, but in spring time, the bare wood is covered in simple lemon green star flowers that erupt for every knarly inch.

I never knew you could pick forsythia twigs months before they flower in the garden and enjoy them inside. Thanks to the generosity of bloggers I read about how you could plunge them into water for 24 hours and leave them some where cool before bringing them into the house and waiting for them to flower. I was delighted when I tried this and watched an unprepocessing bunch of twigs burst into flower on the kitchen window sill  in darkest winter.

Since then I have become lazier and realised that that the cooling transitional phase isn’t needed, I just select the twigs from my lovely leggy shrub, shove them into a tall  vase and wait for the stars to come out!

Yes!

What a shout! What a yell of life and light, after so much winter!

Spring is wonderfully early, the sky is scoured blue and burnished in sunshine.

Catkins of expanding hazel are pulled out in the unexpected heat and the bees appear from no where.

Pollen clouds of sherbet yellow are  thrown up into widening, widening, wonderful opening sky!

For Mum.

For Kathleen 1929 –  31st January 2019.

 

 

Snow at the end of winter

High heaped, brittle,

Chaffinches fiddling for grain

In stunted grass.

And then –

Flight –

Strong, short wings,

A sound of flight

A movement of the air

A flash of complicated colour.

Blue, blue, bright sky

A flat,  simple palette of love

Lightens their escape.

 

A Green Wall.

Walls don’t all divide, some are beautiful, give us oxygen to breath and are a hopeful sign of a better future.

This was in a modest hotel, near the back door. I have seen fancy green walls before that look as if they need an army of staff to maintain them and water them, but this was manageable, functional and as pretty as any picture.

I think soon all our walls will look like this. Just as most of our roofs are covered in solar panels generating electricity right now , soon all our walls will be used to grow food, replenish the oxygen in our homes and restore our deep, deep need for green.

 

 

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Rambling bramblings.

Squeals of delight come easily to children and rarely to the truely grown up. Adult life consists of such profoundly dull things that an unforced squealing is considered an audible anomaly. That is why bramblings are so wonderful.

The odd jaunty red brambling amongst the chaffinches or sparrows in the garden is a smile inducing pleasure, but a wintering flock streaming overhead as the darkness falls evokes a real squeal.

Some years they don’t come. Apparently the prevelence of beech mast has to be just right to tempt them south from their Scandinavian homes in such numbers: they dont take wing in their millions for nothing. But when the conditions are right they arrive in huge numbers and feed voraciously in the woods of Southern Germany, Eastern France and northern Switzerland. We were once in the forest when they descended to forage and every leaf was alive with flicking, delicately rustling birds, as thousands and thousands fed quietly around us.

This year we have seen few on the ground, but suddenly the air has been fabulously full of them. Somewhere relatively close, the bramblings have been roosting on mass and the skies right above our muddy garden have been filled with their sturdy determined silhouettes returning at dusk to their temporary roost.

The first flock flying over make you stop what you are doing and shout for others to look. The second flock makes you shout louder, the third, the forth and the fifth flock leave you rooted to the earth in immobile delight. When the flocks streaming overhead are indistinguishable and there is no sky between them, then you realise you are seeing millions of birds and squealing is the only possible response!

We tried in vain to find the roost, but by the time we had time to give up doing the dull things that grown ups do, the bramblings in their extraordinary, unbelievable millions, had gone somewhere else.

I hope they will be back next year.

“Flashing like tinsel” – for Mary Oliver.

“There’s Oliver, still standing around in the weeds. There she is, still scribbling in her notebook… but at the center: I am shaking; I am flashing like tinsel.”

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard

by Mary Oliver

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear –

it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
fluttering
down the little aliminum
ladder of his scream –
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,

a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.

Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.

Delicacy.

The sun is up for such a brief moment. A bar of sunshine slants across the hill and inside all the dust of December is illuminated on glass and table and books. Outside the sparrows cluster to the unfreezing bread crumbs, blackbirds eat the half thawed windfall apples and a solitary goldfinch fluffs herself into the seed house to gorge in safety.

In some corners the sunlight never reaches at all and the frost forms thicker and thicker, riming each leaf with new flowers of ice, blooming delicately, quietly in the cold, still air.

How long can you make the summer last?

 

I love flowers: their colour; their perfume; their shape and their transience.

I like birds, I sort of like lichens, grass is tolerable. Winter is therefore rather dull to say the least. I look at birds, but they keep flying off. Lichens stay put, grasses are cut down and seed heads disperse. Ice makes pretty patterns in the puddles and snow can be beautiful, but nothing compares to a flower.

The months of winter are very, very long- so to dry the last flowers of summer and enjoy them at leisure, is some small compensation.

This summer I grew straw flowers and, as long as you pick them before they open, they make wonderfully coloured flowers for a winter arrangement . I have a marvellously sturdy yellow tansy that is covered in flowers perfect for drying and I bought a fresh bunch of stacis from the market that dried infront of the stove and keeps its colour perfectly.

I have shoved them in an old wine jug and so far they still smell of summer and are lovely: fulfilling all of my requirements, except transience.

On not being tidy.

There is a great desire to tidy up the garden at this time of year; to sweep away, to cut down and the housewife in me itches to do away with all the dying vegetation in a great autumn cleanup.

It has taken me a few years of enjoying my own garden to realise that this urge really stems from the mistaken belief that tidying away the old season, will hasten in the new. Old flower stems, mushy leaves and lank shrubs seem to cry out for a short back and sides, but having subjected my garden to such tidy mindedness in my first few years of real gardening, all I was left with was brown soil, bristling shrubs and flat grass. As there are months and months to go before the first bulbs appear and leaves soften the stark branches, I slowly realised that there is no rush to clean up and precious little point to loosing the interest bequeathed by the dying year.

Not being tidy means the seeds have time to ripen in the seed heads and the dry stems give architectural beauty lost in the tidy garden . Spiders sling their webs between the stalks and the first frosts jewel them with diamonds. The leaves shelter the worms, the beetles and the bugs that will feed the hedgehogs and the bushes are roost sites for sparrows and larders for bluetits. The unpicked grapes are pecked off by the blackbirds and the apples forgotten in the grass will feed the starlings.

The weeds that have escaped the tidy hoe in the vegetable patch find space to miraculously flower and prickly blue borage is noisy with the last honey bees.  Nothing is to be gained by pulling them up. There will be time much later in the long, long winter to make space for next year’s explosion of life.

Until them I will resist the urge to tidy and let my garden move at its own  pace: quietly, messily giving life to the winter world.

“…running through my hands”

 

The Seed-Shop

By Muriel Stuart

HERE in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone and shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry –
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

Dead that shall quicken at the voice of spring,
Sleepers to wake beneath June’s tempest kiss;
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee find here roses that were his.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That shall drink deeply at a century’s streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can stir a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

 

I love this poem, especially the last stanza, though I never see seeds as ashes or shrivelled, just glossy and plump with potential for the next year.

After such a glorious autumn the sleet and cold wind of this weekend are reminders that the first days of November arrive this week. I went out in the sleet to pick the last flowers and filled my pockets with the seeds I have been meaning to collect all  month. In my trouser pocket I found a black acorn I had picked up under a local oak tree earlier. The path is meely with crushed fallen acorns, every single one regulation brown except this perfect black seed. A genetic variation that will maybe heat up faster in the spring ready to germinate, or maybe it is less palitable to squirrels or mabe just unusual enough to be prized by a passing human and planted somewhere new…. “ and in my hand a forest lies asleep.”

Easy pickings: prickly pickings!

 

I was pleased as punch with the first few cherry tomatoes that the garden produced this season and as the dry, hot weather has gone on; with just a little effort,  I have filled bowl after bowl with the sweet red jewels. Previous attemps to grow tomatoes have resulted in little to eat and a lot of black blight, but this year has been a fruitful union of the right seeds and the perfect weather.

 

 

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Much sparcer, and far more difficult to pick have been the first sloes from our garden. Sloe berries come from blackthorn and the bush is well named, as the thorns are hard and very spiney. This blackthorn bush self seeded into a corner of the garden that we didn’t mow, along with birch, willow, larch, budlia, plum, laurel, fir and even an oak sapling.

We let the wild patch alone and the blackthorn has grown big enough in 8 years to be covered in white flowers in the spring time and now thick with black fruit in the autumn. In England you don’t pick sloes until they are crisped by the first frost, but I have learnt from experience that in my corner of France/ Germany/Switzerland, if you wait until the first frost, the berries will have ripened and fallen off by then .

So in the wild corner of the garden I did mighty  battle with the thorns and picked enough fruit to turn a couple of bottles of gin into sloe gin for a treat this Christmas. They will do their frosting in the freezer and I will add them to gin and sugar next week.

So you see gardening for wildlife is not entirely altruistic after all!

Dawn

I open the bathroom window, the cat leaps onto the window sill, huge eyed she surveys the black garden. The houses are dark, the shutters are down. Above the hill a crescent moon reclines on thin clouds.

A tawny owl calls soft and is answered, soft, soft. Bat, or is it bird, black against grey, very close. One cluck, another and then an indignant coal scuttle of falling notes clattering hard against the leaves: the blackbirds are awake – there is orange in the sky.

The church spire appears and a black redstart ticks the waking minutes from the rose arch. The Rome flight takes off and the plane leaves a dirty streak of noise across the sky followed by another and another. The pale blue morning is now tartan with orange vapour trails.
Two crows weave through, chatting companionably together against the immense  sky. The sparrows are awake, a car hisses by.

The donkey, that I have never heard in my entire life, brays to the crows.

The cat jumps down.

 

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